All posts by David Oldroyd

This is a crisis: environmental breakdown

This report published in February 2019 is from the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) in the UK. It is yet another appeal to politicians to act in the face of the gravity of environmental breakdown due to human activity. It warns that the world is on a path toward “environmental breakdown” that will likely trigger “runaway collapse” of social and economic systems in the vein of the 2008 global financial crisis, and it calls for major shifts in understanding the scale and pace of environmental change, the implications of it, and the need for a radical transforming response.

It is almost half a century since warnings of this type have been appearing and have been ignored by those who are in a position to initiate the radical changes required to reverse the exponential acceleration of the damage that the “Machine World” is inflicting on Spaceship Earth. Crises are not what most leaders wish to recognise and the status quo that assumes that economic growth and human dominance can continue indefinitely is preferable to radical reversals of public policy. The dynamic of corporate profit-seeking remains all-powerful to allow serious attention to environmental breakdown.

Existential risks – the Centre for the Study of Existential Risks at Cambridge University contributed this article to the BBC website.

“the World Health Organization and the World Economic Forumboth listed climate change and its effects as one of their top risks for 2019.Recent UN talks heard climate change was already “a matter of life and death” for many regions. While many, including Sir David Attenborough, believe it could lead to the collapse of civilisations and the extinction of “much of the natural world”. The threats are complex and diverse, from killer heatwaves and rising sea levels to widespread famines and migration on a truly immense scale.
Also increasing are the potential risks from novel technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI). The scenarios range from increasingly sophisticated cyber-weapons that could hold an entire nation’s data to ransom, to autonomous algorithms that could unwittingly cause a stock-market crash. Another threat is the possibility of a nuclear war. While many focus on rising tensions between global powers, new technologies may also be making us less safe.”

Plastic pollution a distraction from worse threats

A new ‘Montreal Protocol’ needed?

This article and short film present the case for renewed international cooperation to repeat, for many other pollutants including plastics, the success that the 1987 Montreal Protocol represented in banning CFC s that were causing a hole in the ozone layer above the Antarctic. The 5 minute film is narrated by David Attenborough.

Today scientists predict that stratospheric ozone concentrations will rebound to 1980 levels by the middle of this century. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the Montreal Protocol has prevented millions of cases of skin cancer and cataracts from exposure to ultraviolet radiation. In 2016 nations adopted the Kigali Amendment, which will phase out production and use of hydrofluorocarbons, another class of ozone-depleting chemicals.

Why has the Montreal Protocol worked so well? One key factor is that every nation in the world has joined it. They did so because alternative materials were available to substitute for chlorofluorocarbons. The treaty also provided financial support to countries that needed help transitioning away from the banned substances.

Another pact, the 2001 Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, banned or severely limited production and use of certain chemicals that threatened human and environmental health, including specific insecticides and industrial chemicals. Today 182 nations have signed the treaty. Concentrations of several dangerous POPs in the Arctic, where global air and water currents tend to concentrate them, have declined.

Nations have added new chemicals to the list and created “elimination networks” to help members phase out use of dangerous materials such as PCBs. And producers of goods such as semiconductors and carpets that use listed chemicals are working to develop new, safer processes.

Even though the United States has not signed the Stockholm Convention, U.S. companies have largely eliminated production of the chemicals that the treaty regulates. This shows that setting a global standard may encourage nations to conform in order to maintain access to global markets.

Green New Deal?

This article offers some hope amongst all the negative news coming out of the USA concerning human impact on the planet that threatens a sustainable future. And this additional article claims that the Green New Deal is a good first step. And here The Green New Deal explained. And from The Atlantic – Democrats put out an official blueprint for a Green New Deal on Thursday. The plan, released by freshman New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, would completely transform just about all facets of the American economy to drastically lower carbon emissions. The bill has virtually no chance of becoming law—it’s dead on arrival in the Republican-controlled Senate—but it’s nevertheless consequential, suggesting that a new crop of Democratic politicians is poised to make mammoth climate bills central to the party’s platform going forward. Further comment here. 

Heinberg – Could a GND save civilisation?

GND update 1 March 2019

Vox article re critics of the GND

Washington Post improved version of the GND

We have just launched in Tychy, Poland a small effort to raise local awareness and hope relating to the existential threats to Spaceship Earth. The small group ranging in age from 15 to 78 is tentatively using the acronym SEAT – (Spaceship Earth Action Tychy). Initially the mostly young professionals (psychologists, teachers, IT specialists, architect, school student) are working together in the English language and looking at offering workshop activities to local citizens in the town. At its first meeting, the group agreed to focus on hopeful reasons for community action.


“Once we start to act, hope is everywhere” Greta Thunberg.

Hope is less intellectual than emotional; it’s a feeling.

Hope increases if people feel part of a community dedicated to a common purpose.

More people are becoming involved in Spaceship Earth action every day. There’s plenty of fellowship

“Climate solutions and possibilities already exist. Together we can limit global warming to 1.5˚.”

The UNDP (United Nations Development Program) Strategy:

A. Make sure everyone is sufficiently alarmed, and knows how desperate and urgent the crisis is — so that they act.

B. Give people a sense of hope so that they know what actions to take that will have a strong impact — so that they act.

Ten reasons for hope:

  1. Technological and industrial innovations, such as cheap renewable energy, are coming faster and faster.
  2. Local, city and national governments are committing to cut carbon, ban pollutants, protect species and replant forests.
  3. People are rising up in popular protests to pressure policymakers and companies to change direction.
  4. Humans have not, since 1945 in Japan, used the nuclear weapons that have been available.
  5. The CFC chemicals causing a hole in the ozone layer (discovered in 1973) were banned when nations agreed to cooperate (Montreal Protocol, 1987).
  6. Slavery that was once seen as normal is now seen as immoral, so maybe growth economics can be replaced by circular regenerative economics.
  7. The scientific evidence of the effects on health of smoking were recognised despite 40 years of denial and delay by the tobacco industry, so maybe the same will happen in relation to greenhouse gas emission from human activity.
  8. School pupils are starting protest to thanks to Greta Thunberg, who started this, and is still inspiring our youth to take action around the world.
  9. A political movement for a “Green New Deal” is emerging in the USA.
  10. Huge amounts of evidence for change now available:

There are powerful obstacles to change – e.g. Deep vested interests are resisting climate action: those are the economies, businesses and political systems dependent on fossil fuels, polluting industries, or biodiversity destruction. We must speak truth to power. “Power concedes nothing without a demand.”

“You say you love your children above all else”

15 year old Greta Thunberg spoke the words in the title in her statement addressed to the participants at the COP24 meeting in Katowice in December 2018. This article from Resilience uses her title and the Hans Christian Andersen story of the Emperor with No Clothes to illustrate the modern story of the desirability and feasibility of perpetual economic growth that we all choose to ignore. The young Swedish activist, who also appeared at the World Economic Forum in Davos this month, was like the child who told the naked Emperor that he had no clothes. She spoke to the powerful participants telling them that if they loved their children above all else, then the greed for unending wealth that drives our modern capitalist consumer society should be put aside. Exponential growth of technology, fossil fuel and capital accumulation are the emperor’s new clothes of modern society that we choose to overlook.

“Technologies have taken over our society. Meanwhile, there is no doubt that capitalism and the market economy have been major drivers for the transition to a fossil fuel economy.  For companies, regardless if they wanted to or not, it has been impossible not to mechanize if they want to stay in business. And mechanization led to specialization and bigger scale, which in turn led to linear production processes, a fundamental break from an economy that earlier was sustainable and largely regenerative. Competition also pushed producers to externalize as many costs as possible, be it social, cultural or environmental.

Governments have also been keen on growth oriented policies, “international competitiveness” to keep corporations happy to invest and operate in their country. This gives the governments more tax revenue to spend (perhaps also money into their own pockets). The power of corporations has also increased with globalization and de-regulation, to some extent the result of intentional politics and to some extent the result of the capitalist take-over of more and more of society.

By and large, citizens, consumers and workers have of course also benefited from this, at least as long as growth continued and the elites (economic, political or technocratic) didn’t abuse their powers by taking too big a share of the pie. Calls are now made, however, that “consumers” shouldn’t waste so much food, eat less meat, stop driving the car and don’t fly. Oddly enough no one makes the same call for people in their role as workers – are we to consume less we also need to produce less, shouldn’t we? No calls are made for companies to produce less or countries to shrink their economies.”

Can young people turn off complacency about climate change? This article argues, citing Greta Thunberg, that they can.

Young people have no tolerance for complacency: they have never known a time when climate change was not a threat. For them, it is about the ‘here and now’ and talking ‘solutions not science.’ Being the most digitally connected generation yet, our youth have the capacity to channel that motivation into globally coordinated efforts. Seeing as they will soon become our future leaders, decision-makers and consumers, it would be absurd to exclude them from our climate communication initiatives.”

Greta Thunberg article and TED Talk

Population and Nitrogen fertiliser

Greenhouse gas emissions and their unintended consequences got a good airing in the media in 2018, especially around the UNFCCC COP24 event in December. The unintended consequences of population and economic growth are less dealt with by the mainstream media despite their being the underlying causes of human-induced atmospheric modification and global heating. This short article published on the Stanford University MAHB website today is a timely reminder that there are other unintended consequences of universally approved human activity to re-examine. When teaching in Australia in 1969 my students joined Paul Ehrlich, whose prediction is featured in this article, on a TV discussion programme. In his 90s he is still trying to convince the world of the combined dangers of the exponential growth of population, affluence and technology. So is the author of the article “Will Paul Ehrlich’s prediction finally come true?” that concludes:

the best we can hope for is a world population peak of 10 billion around 2070, which would make it necessary to increase the consumption of nitrogen fertilizer to at least 160 million tonnes per year. This is not sustainable, but there is no solution in sight.”

UN Sec’y Gen – “Immoral … suicidal”

This show of 24 slides issued on 15.12.2018 the last day of the event, has been compiled by Jeremy Leggett to justify the claim made by the UN Secretary General at the COP24 gathering in Katowice Poland about failure to curb greenhouse gas emissions. The outcome of the UNFCCC attempt to reach international agreement looks inadequate as this BBC report suggests. The following extracts suggest why:

“… There are 196 countries in the UN and 192 counties agree,” said Mohamed Nasheed [President of Maldives]”We are just talking about four that do not agree, and these four are taking us hostage.” For the more than 20,000 people attending these talks, the end can’t come quickly enough. The expectation is that it will be Saturday afternoon at the earliest. Some are worried that it could go into Sunday, but most delegates have flights to catch on that date sothe pressure will be on to finish by then …

Poland holds the COP presidency but there is a lot of concern among delegates that they lack an overall picture of what should emerge from the meeting. Most people want to see a strong rulebook, a commitment by countries to raise their ambitions and carbon cutting promises before 2020 and some clarity on how much money will be delivered to poorer countries – as well as when it will arrive. While some negotiators say the Poles are doing a good job in difficult circumstances, many are critical, saying they are responding to the needs of the rich and not the poor.

5 Takeaways from Katowice COP24 – BBC summary 16.12.18

When and where were the poor ever favoured ahead of the rich and powerful?  But greenhouse gas from rich or poor will not differentiate as it warms “Hothouse Earth”,

Climate Agreement survives – despite the ‘strong men’ against

Completely inadequate outcome of COP24“a rulebook that in parts both lacks in substance and is unjust. The resolutions agreed are not enough to prevent disaster, by a long shot.”

10 worst-case climate predictions if 1.5C warming is exceeded.

2050 renewable target is technically feasible

This presentation of 20 slides by Jeremy Leggett demonstrates how the world supply of energy could be free of fossil fuels by 2050. Leggett is in the business of solar energy innovation. It is unlikely that the COP24 negotiators in Katowice share his optimism. The vested interests of the big energy producing countries led the US, Saudi Arabia and Russia to disavow the IPCC analysis.

World’s largest shipping line aims for carbon neutrality – Maersk has 20% of world containers shipping trade and has good intentions.


Macron’s tax on fuel creates social backlash – how to decarbonize?

Poland Europe’s top climate denier & coal burning country  – a switch from cheap coal to a more costly low-emission economy is politically unpalatable.

Saudi Arabia, the US, Kuwait and Russia block IPCC report at COP24 – 
big oil and gas producers block recognition of relevant science. 
When climate-cycle feedbacks are taken into account, warming would likely be in the range of 4–5°C, which is considered incompatible with the maintenance of human civilisation.

Forecasts too pessimistic? – Atlantic article 05 Jan 2019 referring to
the 2018 Emissions Gap Report offers new insight into what meaningful climate action will look like. 

what can we do?

Prof. Nate Hagens teaches at the University of Minnesota in the US. He gave up his job in Wall Street upon realising what impact exponentially growing, fossil fuel-and debt-based, free-market, corporate capitalism was having on the finite earth. When his students ask WHAT CAN WE DO? the article summarises what he tells them. It relates to

  1. Big Universal Movements
  2. Personal Lifestyles

and adds a few links to important readings.

OLDROYD CLIMATE HUB PRESENTATION –  Slides from the presentation – Spaceship Earth presentation short notes

Greta Thunberg action

And some positive news from US politics? Is A New Green Deal possible in the USA? – the new generation of progressive Democrats (Ocasio-Cortez, are promoting a huge climate policy shift resembling the massive response to the original New Deal that reversed the Great Depression of 1929 (The Atlantic article, 5 Dec 2019)

Vision of an Ecological Civilisation -Jeremy Lent (author of “The Patterning Instinct”) MAHB article

Climate activists must challenge economic growth – Resilience article for COP24 activists, 7 Dec 2018

Open Letter supporting Extinction Rebellion – XR has now spread to 35 countries and is supported by 100 leading progressive signatories

The challenge for China  – air-conditioning demands


Welcome to Spaceship Earth (2 mins)

The impossible hamster e(economic growth)

Direct action in Poland video (6 mins)

Hooked on Growth (50 mins)

Speech for climate justice by Anjali Appadurai at Climate Summit in Durban

 Lecture by Guy McPherson Responding to abrupt climate change” –(75 mins.)

Noam Chomsky lecture on climate change and nuclear war existential crises, 2017

COP24 links

People’s voice at COP24 falls on deaf ears

Programmed by evolution to discount climate change? – we inherit “psychological distance” from complex future reality. It leads us to behave according to immediate feeling and experience that overwhelms rational calculation about an abstract future.

High Carbon Jamboree – Anderson critique of COP24

Final outcomes – flawed but hope remains (Guardian 17.12.18)

Global HEATING (not just warming) = better term says worried climatologist co-author of “Hothouse Earth” Report

“There will be hell to pay” if no sensible agreement is reached

CNN coverage  

Guardian Editorial 13.12.18 summarises the failure of international cooperation hopes of dealing with global warming due, in large part, to the rise of nationalism

Attenborough speaks for the world’s people  – time is running out (video); UN Secretary General talks of suicidal failure

Simulation game 2040 played by some COP24 delegates – “We got great feedback from players about the way the game made tipping points real”

CO2 emissions reach all time high – timely Global Carbon Project report for COP24 participants to ponder (BBC website article). Contains suggestions for personal action to lower emissions.

At COP24 Greta Thunberg the 15-year old Swedish activist speaks truth to power holders who fail to act and predicts that “people will rise to the challenge” where our leaders have failed to curb CO2 emissions. She called for a school strike on Friday 14 Dec.; About Greta; Greta’s TED x Talk

David Attenborough warns of civilisation collapse; “If we don’t take action, the collapse of our civilizations and the extinction of much of the natural world is on the horizon. The world’s people have spoken. Their message is clear. Time is running out. They want you, the decision makers, to act now. They’re behind you, along with civil society represented here today. Leaders of the world, you must lead. The continuation of civilization and the natural world on which we depend, is in your hands.”

Academics’ perspectives on  “12 years to disaster”

What to expect

What must be agreed – The urgency for decisive action is the imperative for COP24. The UN must press on with four major strands for meeting the Paris 1.5°C target:

  1. Reduce fossil carbon emissions.
  2. Remove carbon from the atmosphere (NETs).
  3. Halt the rise of emissions of non-CO₂ greenhouses cases (Methane, Nitrous oxide, CFCs).
  4. Investigate techniques for geoengineering, including Solar Radiation Management.

All four of these must proceed simultaneously and in parallel. COP24 must make this perfectly clear. There is utmost urgency and no time to “wait and see”.

Financial sector cannot be trusted in climate transition – sustainability and profitability in conflict.  “… private finance and large investors will play a central role at the COP24 in Katowice, Poland, and in the full implementation of the 2015 Paris Agreement.  Representatives from pension funds, insurance funds, asset managers and large banks will attend the meeting and lobby governments, cities and other banks to favour investments in infrastructure, energy production, agriculture and the transition towards a low-carbon economy.  It is difficult to ignore that a strong reliance on private finance means putting the future of Earth in the hands of individuals and institutions that brought the global economy to the verge of collapse. …  global military spending in 2017 reached US$1.7 trillion while poor countries promised funding for climate change adaptation and mitigation in 2015 are still waiting.. COP24 should not legitimise large financial investors as the architects of a transition where sustainability rhymes with profitability”.

The Great Dying – new research on the Permian extinction – an ominous reminder of what climate change can do. NYT article 

On track for 1.5C global limit by 2034 – just 16 years to cross the limit.

Big investors to the rescue? – week 2 of COP24 gets new perspective based on fear of financial system collapse.

Coal in; activists out – Polish organisers of COP criticised; Coal addiction effects in Poland (photo essay);




This cartoon based on an Indian fable, shows how blind men perceive the ‘big picture’ of reality. The whole is much harder to see than the parts, so understandings are limited. An example that I witnessed recently was the COP24 Climate Summit in Katowice in December 2018. Two hundred national representatives assembled in yet another attempt to agree on limiting the emission of greenhouse gases which are causing global warming, climate disruption and melting of the cryosphere that is contributing to sea level rise. Carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions are a symptom of the Machine World that has been called a “heat engine” due to the releasing of the energy stored underground for millions of years as coal, oil and natural gas (so-called fossil energy that is used as fossil fuel). So we might say that the ‘elephant in the room’ (the unseen cause of a particular problem) is the debt-driven growth-economy, the pursuit of ever-increasing GDP that is the driver of the Machine World. Put in terms of the Spaceship Earth metaphor, we have an unnoticed elephant on board to which participants attending meetings like COP24 are not paying attention. They are focusing only on one particular part of the elephant – the emission of gases! The big picture is not in their sights.  The climate scientists who offer their dire warning that 1.5C degrees of global warming is now the tipping point for the loss of a sustainable future for humanity by and large are reluctant to put the finger on the Machine World as the root cause of the symptom of global warming. Most scientists focus on understanding only parts of the whole elephant. And scientists often depend on the drivers of the elephant for their livelihoods!

without a wider critique of the toxic relationship between climate change and economic growth, governments will be almost powerless to achieve any net zero targets they set”. 

The above quotation from this article sums up the invisible ‘elephant in the room’ (universal commitment to economic growth which is the root cause of climate change and many other existential threats to a sustainable future) at the mass gathering from 200 nations in Katowice this week that is trying to reach some accord, in the absence of US commitment, in the face of the latest dire warnings from the IPCC scientific consensus about climate disruption, anthropogenic warming and rising numbers of storms & floods, droughts & fires around the world.

The article further suggests that:

“At COP24 environmental movements have an opportunity to use their platform to highlight the relationship between economic growth and environmental impact, and even to discuss radical alternative futures that are not dependent on a growth-based economy.”

This is  precisely the purpose of the presentation that I shall make at the Climate Hub fringe event platform on Friday that I am calling “Prospects for Spaceship Earth in the Anthropocene”. I will add this slide from the above article to my presentation:

I am less convinced about the article’s conclusion that:

“By identifying the root cause of climate change, and our inability to address it, these [protest] groups can go further than demanding action. They can change public mindsets, put pressure on national governments and point to a shared way forward. Here, we have our best shot at limiting the damage of climate change in a meaningful and timely way.”

Pictures of where one consequence of economic growth is leading – From a Guardian article on day one of Katowice COP24. “Climate catastrophe is now looking inevitable. We have simply left it too late to hold rising global temperatures to under 1.5C and so prevent a future of drowned coasts, ruined coral reefs, spreading deserts and melted glaciers”. 

2.7% growth in GHG  emissions for 2018 (NYT, 6 Dec 2018)

Rich countries failing on GHG emissions

Monbiot on inter-generational theft sees property rights as underpinning the elephant in the room of wealth accumulation